Victorians want to rectify 19th-century surveying error – and become South Australians.
- A 19th-century surveying error created a complicated tripoint on the Murray River in eastern Australia.
- Officially, the dispute about the zigzag border between South Australia and Victoria was settled in 1914.
- COVID-19 is making life so difficult for the locals that now they want to switch sides again.
Straight, but with a little swerve
Sunset in South Australia's Riverland, close to the zigzag border with Victoria and New South Wales.
Image: Yuri Obst – CC BY-SA4.0
South Australia's eastern border looks like one of those unswervingly straight lines that zip through deserts and other thinly settled parts of the world without the slightest deviation. And indeed, it starts at the 26th parallel as it ends 833 miles further south, on the sandy shores of the Southern Ocean: straight as an arrow.
But swerve it does. Zoom in on the place where that border meets the Murray. That mighty river flows into South Australia from the east, where it forms the border between New South Wales (NSW) to the north, and Victoria to the south. Here, South Australia's eastern border hitches a ride of about three miles downstream before it resumes its southward plunge.
The result is a zigzag border – a wonderful anomaly, if you're into that kind of thing. But if you're local, that border is nothing but trouble. And with the coronavirus further complicating things, many now want the anomaly gone. Quite a few local Victorians want the border drawn as was intended by South Australia's founding document, almost two centuries ago. That would make them citizens of South Australia, the state where they do most of their business anyway.
In 1836, the Letters Patent that established what was initially known as the colony of South Australia declared that its eastern border would be the 141st meridian east of Greenwich.
At that time, South Australia had only one neighbor to the east: NSW. But not for long. In 1839, NSW south of the Murray River became the District of Port Phillip, and in 1851 that district became the separate colony of Victoria. The new colony inherited its western border from NSW. However, back in the 19th century, defining a border on a map was one thing; demarcating it on the ground, in the Australian Outback no less, was quite another.
In 1839, surveyor Charles Tyers left a giant arrow made out of limestone rock just east of the mouth of the Glenelg River, at a spot he had calculated as being the 141th meridian. Tyers' Arrow, on the Southern Ocean, was supposed to be the starting point of an inland surveying expedition.
Owen Stanley, captain of HMS Britomart, made sure that would never happen. Visiting the location some time after Tyers' expedition, he estimated that the latter's mark was 2.25 miles east of the 141st meridian. This is where the trouble started, because Stanley's correction was due to faulty equipment. And Tyers had, in fact, been right.
Half a pint of horse blood
South Australia's northern border is the 26th parallel south, which is also the starting point of its eastern border, at the 141st meridian east – but only until the Murray River.
Image: Wikimedia Commons & Ruland Kolen
By the mid-1840s, land disputes between sheep farmers in the area between the Murray and the sea necessitated a demarcation of the border between South Australia and the District of Port Phillip. In 1847, surveyor Henry Wade laid down 123 miles of border in a straight south-north line – starting from the point established by Stanley instead of Tyers.
Due to harsh conditions, difficult terrain and broken equipment, Wade had to give up surveying about 155 miles south of the Murray River. Nevertheless, both South Australia and NSW soon accepted his line as the boundary between both territories.
In 1849, Wade's co-surveyor Edward White completed demarcating the boundary north to the Murray – but in conditions even harsher than on the previous expedition. After just two weeks in the waterless Big Desert, his men had mutinied and two of this three horses had died. When the last one lay down, White drank half a pint of its blood, "which was thick, black and unhealthy-looking and had the same bad smell as his breath," he later wrote in his diary. Whether or not thanks to that drink, he managed to stagger on for two more miles – reaching the Murray and completing the survey.
By that time, it was already clear that the Wade-White line wasn't the true meridian. However, both sides having accepted the line for what it was, the new state of Victoria upon its establishment in 1851 inherited the mistake in its favor.
In 1868, it was time to demarcate the border north of the Murray. By then, better instruments were available. So, for the border between South Australia and NSW, it was agreed to revert to the 141st meridian, as per the original definition.
As a result, South Australia's eastern border follows the Wade-White line south of the Murray, and the 141st meridian to the river's north. Hence the zigzag at the tripoint with NSW and Victoria, which is called MacCabe Corner.
MacCabe Corner is one of five named state border junctions in Australia. Surveyor Generals Corner is at the tripoint of Western Australia (WA), South Australia (SA) and the Northern Territory (NT).Poeppel Corner is at the tripoint of NT, SA and Queensland (QLD).Haddon Corner is where the SA-QLD border takes a 90° turn south.Cameron Corner is at meeting point of SA, QLD and New South Wales (NSW).MacCabe Corner is at the tripoint of SA, NSW and Victoria (VIC).
Image: Yarl, Papayoung & Summerdrought - CC BY-SA 3.0
For South Australia, that zigzag was a stark reminder of what it had lost: a strip of land between the Murray and the sea, 2.25 miles wide and 280 miles long – in all, more than 500 square miles.
For decades, South Australia disputed Victoria's ownership of the strip, and tried to reclaim it (or at least get compensated for it). But that was like trying to close the barn door long after the horse had bolted: by 1849, the District of Port Phillip had already sold or leased out 47 percent of the disputed land.
Due to the dispute, the contested strip of land continued to be a bit of a grey zone, legally. In a 1901 referendum, one local cast his vote as a Victorian one day, and as a South Australian the next.
The grey zone was finally erased in 1914, when the Privy Council in London pronounced in favor of Victoria. The court acknowledged that a surveying mistake had been made; but the erroneous border had been accepted by both sides, and that was that.
End of story? Well, not quite. Not if it's up to the good people of Lindsay Point, an almond-growing community just south of the tripoint, entirely within Victoria – but mainly west of the 141st meridian.
The nearest Victorian cities are more than 100 miles to the east. Most farmers and other locals are oriented towards the Riverland region in South Australia, where they go to school and do all of their business. Conversely, many properties in and around Lindsay Point are owned by South Australians. Even the power comes in from South Australia.
Irrelevant and inconvenient
Close-up of the zigzag border near MacCabe Corner, the tripoint where South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria meet, on the Murray River.
Image: Google Earth & Ruland Kolen
That level of cross-border economic integration came under pressure in recent months, when Australia's states started imposing restrictions on interstate travel, due to COVID-19. Specifically, a border lockdown preventing Victorians from entering South Australia has cut off Lindsay Point from its natural hinterland.
With that state border irrelevant in the best of times, and bloody inconvenient in the worst of times, many locals are dusting off the old territorial dispute. Increasingly, they are convinced that the Privy Council's verdict should not be final, and that it should be settled in favor of the side that lost the first time around.
If it ever does, the result will surely count as the longest, narrowest strip of territory ever to change hands.
More on the low rumblings of secessionism in Lindsay Point in this ABC News story.
Strange Maps #1040
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What are the arguments in favor of comprehensive immigration restrictions, what relevant ethical claims are political discourses obscuring, and how has German hip-hop formed as a result?
Political debates in recent years have depicted immigration in increasingly distorted ways. Dominant fears of immigrants characterize are in conflict with verifiable statistics. Furthermore, the heated rhetoric surrounding the topic has obscured some fundamental ethical questions surrounding the topic that, when explicitly considered, permit anti-immigrant concerns to be assuaged with much less severe policies.
The political debates about immigration in recent years have obscured some of the more obvious facts about immigration – especially with respect to crime. As Professor Marie Gottschalk, who studies and teaches political science at the University of Pennsylvania, observes, American law enforcement and immigration enforcement agencies have converged in a costly way on empirically false premises since the Reagan administration and through the Obama administration. She notes, for instance, that while the average number of deportations grew from about 20,000-25,000 under Reagan to 400,000 under Obama, rises in crime due to legal and illegal immigration have been virtually non-existent: Professor Gottschalk cites data demonstrating that immigrant populations suppress crime rates in Gateway Cities and have no effect on crime rates in other cities. This is in direct contradistinction to politicized depictions of immigration as synonymous with waves of violent crimes.
In addition to Professor Gottschalk’s work, many scholars and journalists have worked to shed light on the plights of immigrants. For example, an episode of NPR’s program Embedded called “The Immigrant” examines the legal realities of cases of deportation as experienced by a family and a lawyer who works to try to keep the immigrant-father together with the rest of his family. Numerous such works illuminate deeper humanitarian concerns implicit to current practices of restricting immigration.
These overarching ethical concerns regarding the humanitarian issues surrounding immigration policies have been neglected. To remind us of the scope of these concerns, Professor Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, opens an accessible and meticulous essay on immigration policy with the following moral thought experiment:
Moved by the plight of desperate earthquake victims, you volunteer to work as a relief worker in Haiti. After two weeks, you’re ready to go home. Unfortunately, when you arrive at the airport, customs officials tell you that you’re forbidden to enter the United States. You go to the American consulate to demand an explanation. But the official response is simply, “The United States does not have to explain itself to you.”
You don’t have to be a libertarian to admit that this seems like a monstrous injustice. The entire ideological menagerie—liberals, conservatives, moderates, socialists, and libertarians—would defend your right to move from Haiti to the United States. What’s so bad about restricting your migration? Most obviously, because life in Haiti is terrible. If the American government denies you permission to return, you’ll live in dire poverty, die sooner, live under a brutal, corrupt regime, and be cut off from most of the people you want to associate with. Hunger, danger, oppression, isolation: condemning you to even one seems wrong. Which raises a serious question: if you had been born in Haiti, would denying you permission to enter the United States be any less wrong?
The power of this thought experiment can be summed up as follows. There are parts of the world from which to deny an American citizen re-entry would be tantamount to condemning her to a gruesome fate. If not clearly unjust, then arguing against re-entry citizen necessitates extraordinary explanation. To say that such a gesture is not unjust if applied to someone not native to America seems arbitrary. What we are left with, then, is a prima facie depiction of the humanitarian side of immigration: many people emigrate to flee dire straits. Intuitively, this is even truer when the immigrants risk extraordinary punitive measures by an ever-expanding security measures to immigrate enter America illegally.
Once immigration restrictions are situated within their humanitarian context, the policies that follow from anxieties regarding the effects of widespread immigration look very different. In his essay, Professor Caplan articulates many common arguments in favor of immigration restrictions and offers plausible alternative policies that would assuage the concerns raised while preserving the humanitarian benefits of less restricted borders. The first claim he considers is that restricting immigration protects American workers. Caplan argues that this claim turns out to be false: Americans benefit rather than suffer from the results of immigration. Nevertheless, Caplan offers the following alternative to restricting immigration to those still convinced that high rates of immigration hurt American workers:
There is a cheaper and more humane alternative: Charge immigrants surtaxes and/or admission fees, then use the extra revenue to compensate low-skilled Americans. For example, you could issue green cards to Haitians who agree to perpetually pay a 50 percent surtax on top of their ordinary U.S. tax liability. Haitians used to earning a dollar a day would jump at the opportunity, and the extra revenue could fund, say, tax cuts for low-income natives. Critics can tailor the details to fit the magnitude of the harm they believe immigrants inflict on native workers. Whatever the magnitude of this harm might be, extracting compensation is cheaper and more humane than forcing foreigners to languish in the Third World.
Professor Caplan argues that the matters of American workers can be addressed without resorting to outright restrictions to immigration. If one endorses immigration restrictions on the basis that they hurt American workers but agrees on the troubling humanitarian implications of not allowing people to immigrate, it is unclear how she could advocate for a policy more restrictive that what Caplan suggests.
One more of the many claims that Professor Caplan addresses is the notion that immigration restrictions are necessary to protecting American taxpayers – namely, the robustness of the American welfare state. This seems reasonable enough: if destitute migrants are able to settle in America, there could be a disproportionate number of people relying on welfare programs. And this could cause welfare programs to require surges in taxes for American citizens or less access to the benefits of those programs (or both!). After providing a nuanced argument for why this objection is also not a justified one, Caplan again is willing to concede the point and offers alternative solutions to restricting immigration that preserves humanitarian concerns:
Before you embrace immigration restrictions, you should still look for cheaper, more humane solutions. They’re not hard to find. The simplest is to freely admit immigrants, but make them permanently ineligible for benefits. “Net fiscal burden” is not a physical constant. It is a function of policy. If immigrants paid normal taxes and received zero benefits, their “net fiscal effect” would almost automatically be positive. If permanent ineligibility seems unfair, surely it is less unfair than refusing to admit immigrants in the first place. And there are many intermediate approaches. You could impose a waiting period: No benefits for 10 years. You could reduce or limit benefits: Half benefits for life, or double Medicare co-payments. You could set thresholds: Immigrants become eligible for benefits after their cumulative taxes exceed $100,000. Whether you love or loathe these proposals, they are certainly cheaper and more humane responses to the fiscal effects of immigration than the status quo.
Once again, Caplan demonstrates that once situated within the humanitarian context of immigration-issues, arguments in favor of restrictions have clear, ethically superior alternatives.
These humanitarian-based approaches to immigration could have ramifications for countries outside of America. In The New York Times, Amanda Taub reported that unfounded anti-immigrant sentiments formed an undercurrent through the passing of Brexit. How would Caplan’s framework characterize the ideas of proponents of Brexit or of Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician seeking to become prime minister who endorsed immigration restrictions as part of his platform? How would it contend with the views of German conservatives who have opposed Turkish immigration?
In the meantime, discrimination toward Turks in Germany has contributed to cultivating the heart of the German hip-hop scene, which is dominated by Turkish-German rappers—many of whom took inspiration from African-American artists. In the face of all these political controversies and crises, such songs provide opportunities for joy and inspiration.